Micah 5; 6: "Wherewith Shall I Come Before the Lord?"
Micah was a younger prophet in Judah at the same time with Isaiah. He continued after Hezekiah into the time when Manasseh was king. Micah was not of a leading family like Isaiah. He was a peasant from a village among the hills toward the Philistine plain. Micah, like Isaiah, rebuked the evil ways of the people, and he told them of the real worship which the Lord desired. If we can, let us say Micah 6:6-8.
Note what the first verse of Micah tells you of his date. "Morasthite" means that he was from Moresheth-gath, a village among the hills of Judah toward Philistia. He denounces the oppression of the poor and dishonesty in dealing. Read the beautiful prophecy in Micah 4:1-5, almost in the same words as Isa. 2:2-4, and the words which later guided the wise men to Bethlehem in Micah 5:2.
Micah is the sixth of the twelve minor prophets. When we mention the names of the first five - Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah - can we recall distinct characteristics of the messages connected with each name? The historical references in Micah are very general. Yet they are distinct because the period to which they refer is clearly marked. (Micah 1:1)
We have here one of the most remarkable prophecies regarding the Lord's Advent. The two statements in Micah and Matthew are worthy of close comparison. The former reads, "Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah! is it little that thou art among the thousands of Judah? Out of thee shall come forth to Me He who will be a Ruler in Israel." (Micah 5:2) The latter reads, "Thou, Bethlehem in the land of Judah, art by no means the least in the leaders of Israel, for out of thee shall come forth a Leader, who shall feed or shepherd my people Israel." (Matt. 2:6) Is Bethlehem little among the thousands of Judah? It is by no means the least among the leaders in Israel. That is the way in which the prophecy was understood by the chief priests and scribes of the people. Bethlehem means "house of bread," where He who is "the bread of life" was born. Bethlehem was little among the thousands of Judah. "The thousands Israel" and "captains or leaders of thousands" are occasionally spoken of in the Old Testament. The thousands refer to the people. Bethlehem was despised in the eves of the Jews. "Truth conjoined with good (E. 449) is disdained by those in evil. Yet it is not despised by those in the spiritual truths of the Word (the leaders of Israel). The spiritual sense of the Word testifies of the Lord Jesus throughout. He is born there. He lives in the spirit of the Divine truth. (E. 700) We cannot admit the Divinity of the Lord apart from the acknowledgment of the living spirit of the Word. He is born in us simultaneously with this living acknowledgment - truth conjoined with good in our lives. That is least to the natural person who is only concerned about his or her own welfare, but not by any means the least to people who struggle to know the truth, and be governed by it.
There are other reasons why Bethlehem was the birthplace of the Lord. It was the birthplace of Benjamin. There Rachel died and was buried. She called Benjamin, Benoni, son of sorrow or grief. The power which truth gains through good is only acquired through hard struggles. (A. 4593, 4594) In the case of the Lord's birth, the pain occasioned by the sacrifice of self-life to procure the first degree of His life in us is expressed in the name of the mother Mary, which means "bitterness." Benjamin, the last of the children of Jacob - after the latter had received the name of Israel, soldier of God - was born at Bethlehem. So also was David. And Bethlehem was called the city of David. These two, Benjamin and David, represent the Lord. The former as "spiritual truth from celestial good, and thence power" (A. 4592), the latter as spiritual truth which overcomes and subdues evils in the spiritual self.
It is interesting in study of the prophets to learn what we can of the times in which they lived, and of the people to whom they spoke. This helps us to understand the clothing of their message. But continually as we read, we feel that the message bursts its local setting. Its rebukes and promises are spoken to us and to people of all times. From the little happenings of Judah shine out promises for the world, especially promises of the corning of the Lord.
Micah 6 is appointed for our study. Verses 6 to 8 of this chapter are one of several passages in the Old Testament where forms and figures fade away and the truth of Christian life and heaven shine clearly in the letter. Other passages of this kind are I Sam. 15:22; Ps. 5:16-17: Ps. 40:6-8; Jer. 7:21-23; Hos. 6:6. But none are more beautiful than these verses in Micah. Such passages are brought together in A. 922. They are passages from which doctrine can be drawn, for they are like the face and hands of a person, while other parts of Scripture are clothed. (S. 55-56) In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord revealed the laws of heaven and Christian life within the laws of old time. So in bidding the Pharisees to learn "what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice" (Matt. 12:7), He was showing what the laws of sacrifice contain. The offerings of gentle animals represented the affections of love to the Lord and to the neighbor needed in the beginning and close of every work, in seasons of penitence and in seasons of thanksgiving. As we gain more experience of these heavenly affections in their great variety, the laws of sacrifice will open and reveal their meaning. (A. 4772)
On "thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil," see R. 287; E. 336. The sacrifice of children was never acceptable to the Lord, as He showed to Abraham. What He desires is the humility which acknowledges every life to be the Lord's and every development of heavenly life to be from Him.
In the verses introducing this beautiful passage of Micah, the Lord appeals to the people to cease basing their life upon selfishness and pride and false thoughts. (A. 9024; E. 405) He has done all that Divine love and power can do to help them to choose the right way. He has showed His power to deliver from false things of the world (Egypt) and from evil pleasures which beguile (Moab). The heart is touched and cries, "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?" Not with sacrifice, nor with any showy service. "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?"
Again we are reminded of the evil of which we must repent, of the scant measure and deceitful weights, the distorted judgments disparaging others and favoring ourselves, which can bring only misery and not blessing. We may labor in the selfish spirit, but we can never reap the harvest or enjoy the goodness and truth of heaven. Such are the statutes of Omri and the work of Ahab, which can lead only to desolation. The bright picture of the life pleasing to the Lord shines out from a dark setting. See the comment on the whole chapter in Prophets and Psalms.
The closing verses of the book revert to the Lord's Divine compassion and mercy. So far each of the six prophecies is brought to a close with a blessing.